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Fighters On The Rise | UFC Fight Night: Font Vs. Garbrandt

See Which Fighters To Keep An Eye On At UFC Fight Night: Font Vs. Garbrandt

While the outcomes on pay-per-view events dictate who sits upon the throne in each division and often delineate the path one needs to travel in order to challenge for said honor, events like this weekend’s return to the UFC APEX in Las Vegas are the ones that frequently start fighters down that path.

Fighters You Should Know | UFC Fight Night: Font vs Garbrandt
Fighters You Should Know | UFC Fight Night: Font vs Garbrandt
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Will any of the emerging talents spotlighted below follow the path blazed by the current collection of UFC champions, navigating their way through preliminary card assignments and Fight Night showcases to reach the pinnacle of their individual weight classes?

Only time will tell, but for now, they’re clearly on the right path.

This is the May 22 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Edmen Shahbazyan

Top Finishes: Edmen Shahbazyan
Top Finishes: Edmen Shahbazyan
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Originally slated to compete last weekend at UFC 262, Edmen Shahbazyan’s first assignment of 2021 was pushed back a week, resulting in the returning middleweight’s showdown with Jack Hermansson being thrust into the spotlight.

Fighting for the first time since suffering the initial loss of his professional career last summer, Shahbazyan has largely been able to avoid most of the usual scrutiny that comes when a rising star has their momentum halted. After rattling off four straight victories and three consecutive first-round stoppage wins to land his initial main event assignment, the 23-year-old Contender Series graduate landed on the wrong side of the results in a main event showdown against Derek Brunson on August 1.

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But the loss to Brunson doesn’t do anything to diminish Shahbazyan’s long-term prospects, as he’s still a tremendous talent with clear, obvious upside and the potential to be a factor in the championship picture for many years. He has smooth boxing, proven power, good wrestling, and the ability to add size and strength as he continues to grow into his body and mature as both a man and a fighter.

This weekend’s pairing with Jack Hermansson is a chance to see how the Glendale Fighting Club representative responds to his first professional setback and further gauge where he fits in the middleweight hierarchy. “The Joker” is a battle-tested divisional fixture with the skills to push Shahbazyan and hand him another loss if he hasn’t patched up some of the holes the fight with Brunson exposed.

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Last summer’s loss shouldn’t have changed anyone’s long-range projections for what Shahbazyan could become in this division, and if he returns to the win column in impressive fashion on Saturday, expect to hear a lot of renewed talk about the bright future “The Golden Boy” most certainly will have in the UFC.

Bruno Silva

Bruno Silva of Brazil celebrates after his knockout over JP Buys of South Africa in their flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Bruno Silva of Brazil celebrates after his knockout over JP Buys of South Africa in their flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Bruno Silva entered the UFC with a solid amount of buzz after amassing a 10-3-2 record on the regional circuit and earning plaudits from his longtime training partner, former two-weight world champion Henry Cejudo. Unfortunately for the 31-year-old “Bulldog,” he stumbled out of the gate, going without a victory in his first three outings, sending him into his first appearance of 2021 with his back against the wall.

Paired off with Contender Series graduate JP Buys in late March, Silva turned in the best performance of his career, showcasing the skills that made him an intriguing addition to the UFC roster. Sharp and aggressive from the start, Silva bullied Buys throughout the nearly eight-minute affair, battering him with clean, crisp striking and stuffing the Fortis MMA product’s every attempt to close the distance and grapple.

MORE UFC FIGHT NIGHT: Preview The Entire Card Fight By Fight

After securing his first UFC win and a Performance of the Night bonus last time out, Silva steps into the Octagon opposite Victor Rodriguez with designs on securing a second consecutive impressive victory.

Getting acclimated to competing at the UFC level is difficult and Silva faced a pair of ultra-talented foes in his first two flyweight appearances, both of which need to be considered when assessing where he stands in the 125-pound weight class.

He has the tenacity and drive deserving of the “Bulldog” sobriquet he carries, and his effort against Buys represents a glimpse of what he’s capable of inside the Octagon. If he can follow that up with a similar showing against Rodriguez this weekend, Silva will go from having his back against the wall to start the year to one of the more intriguing names to track in the division before even reaching the midway point of 2021.

David Dvorak

David Dvorak of the Czech Republic reacts after his victory over Jordan Espinosa in their flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
David Dvorak of the Czech Republic reacts after his victory over Jordan Espinosa in their flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

David Dvorak is one of those aforementioned “talented foes” Silva encountered in his first two appearances in the UFC flyweight division, having bested the Brazilian when they jointly made their Octagon debuts at 125 pounds in March.

The 28-year-old from the Czech Republic followed up his unanimous decision victory over Silva with a similar result against Jordan Espinosa six months later, giving him a 2-0 record inside the Octagon and extending his overall winning streak to a staggering 15 consecutive fights. This weekend, the talented “Undertaker” looks to keep that momentum rolling when he makes his 2021 debut opposite Raulian Paiva in Las Vegas.

FREE FIGHTS: Cody Garbrandt Vs. Raphael Assuncao | Rob Font Vs. Marlon Moraes

There is nothing about Dvorak’s game that jumps off the screen at you when you watch him compete — he doesn’t throw a ton of spinning techniques or get airborne on the regular, nor does he drive through myriad takedowns or attack submissions with dramatic flair. He simply carries a clean, fundamentally sound, well-rounded skill set into the cage and executes precisely, making opponents pay for mistakes while working at a solid clip, establishing himself as a threat in the flyweight division while doing so.

Saturday’s showdown with Paiva is an important clash between competitors stationed beside each other in the rankings — Dvorak at No. 11, Paiva at No. 12 — with the winner potentially vaulting into the Top 10 with an impressive victory.

Should Dvorak maintain his winning ways, securing a third straight UFC victory and 16th straight triumph overall, he could very well find himself standing across the cage from one of the more established names in the division in his second appearance of 2021 with a place on the list of possible title contenders hanging in the balance.